Hidden City (1987 TVM)

UK / 108 minutes / color with some bw / Hidden City, ZDF, Channel Four, Film4 Dir & Scr: Stephen Poliakoff Pr: Irving Teitelbaum Cine: Witold Stok Cast: Charles Dance, Cassie Stuart, Bill Paterson, Richard E. Grant, Alex Norton, Tusse Silberg, Richard Ireson, Saul Jephcott, Michael Mueller, Michelle Fairley, Barbara Young, Brid Brennan, James Trigg, Laura Welch.

Statistical sociologist James Richards (Dance), author of the bestseller Instead of Sex, causes junior film librarian and full-time flake Sharon Newton (Stuart) to be fired, and next thing he knows she’s demanding he help her solve the mystery of a 1940s piece of film that appears to show, amid London street scenes, the forcible abduction of a woman—later identified as The Wife (Brennan). The end of the fragment advises the viewer to go see more on a public-information film called The Hedgerows of England, but that movie, for reasons not obvious in view of the innocuity of its title, has been classified by the security forces.

Cassie Stuart as Sharon.

Reluctantly, wishing he could instead be trying to patch up his relationship with estranged wife Barbara (Silberg), James helps Sharon follow a trail that leads to secret tunnels under London’s busy Oxford Street, a vast rubbish tip (landfill) on the city’s outskirts, an incineration plant and more.

Soon it’s clear the pair have attracted the attention of the authorities, who use threats to try to shut the investigation down. But Sharon has the zeal of the conspiracy-minded fanatic and James, putting aside a professional lifetime of self-satisfied pomposity, becomes sufficiently pissed-off by the intimidation that he’s as determined as she is to get to the heart of the matter . . .

Charles Dance as James.

This was director Stephen Poliakoff’s debut feature, and what’s most immediately apparent about it is how extraordinarily Continue reading

book: The Astronomer (2010) by Lawrence Goldstone


I date my personal fascination for the history of science to my encounter, during my early twenties, with Arthur Koestler’s monumental The Sleepwalkers (1959). In that book Koestler examined the emergence of Western science from the shadows of the Church-dominated centuries, focusing on Copernicus, Kepler and Newton as the primary agents of change. I still thrill to the mere mention of the names of these three.

So a novel set in 1534 France, on the eve of the Copernican revolution and less than twenty years after the Lutheran one, as the Roman Catholic Church thrashes around with some prelates fanatically determined to extirpate the new and others more timidly eager to embrace it, is an easy sell to me, you bet.

Goldstone — whose first science-historical mystery, The Anatomy of Deception, I read last year — more or less met my expectations with this later thriller. I did have the feeling that, had I Continue reading

You Were Never Really Here (2017)

vt A Beautiful Day
UK, France, US / 90 minutes / color with some bw / Film4, BFI, Why Not, StudioCanal, Amazon, Lionsgate Dir & Scr: Lynne Ramsay Pr: Pascal Caucheteux, Rosa Attab, James Wilson, Rebecca O’Brien, Lynne Ramsay Story: You Were Never Really Here (2013; rev 2018) by Jonathan Ames Cine: Tom Townend Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman, Alex Manette, Dante Pereira-Olson, Alessandro Nivola, Frank Pando, Scott Price, Jonathan Wilde, Ronan Summers, Kate Easton.

Lynne Ramsay’s hauntingly unforgettable We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) was among the earliest movies to be covered on this site. You Were Never Really Here has that same indelible quality, that same feeling of inexorably advancing doom, yet it represents an entirely different approach to neonoirish material.

Joe (Phoenix) is a war veteran who now works for John McCleary (Doman) as a tracker-down of missing teenagers. A man who can manifest great violence, yet also great tenderness, he lives with his dear old mom (Roberts) in NYC fighting the PTSD-inspired ghosts of the carnage he’s seen and committed Continue reading

o/t: leisure reading in December

A reasonable haul of books for this closing month of the year, a high percentage of them being by female authors and a couple of the others being translations. I’m conscious that perhaps my reading during 2018 perhaps hasn’t been as diverse as in recent years, so it’s pleasing to have a decent mix in December.

The links are as always to my notes on Goodreads.

Nothing much more to say for 2018, kids and kidicules (and, who knows, maybe even a few grown-ups), except

A Happy New Year to You!

And may 2019 bring you all the good things you hope for, both personally and for others.

book: The Iron Gates (1945) by Margaret Millar


Sixteen years ago, Mildred Morrow set out late at night to walk home across a lonely park from the house of the neighbor, Lucille, with whom she’d spent the evening.

But she never got there. The next morning she was found dead in the park, her skull stoved in by a mighty ax blow. And, thanks to a lackadaisical police investigation, her murderer was never caught.

Today Lucille, now the second wife of Mildred’s widower Andrew Morrow, suddenly departs her home in mysterious circumstances. Inspector Sands of the Toronto PD, who remembers Mildred’s case well even though he was at the time just a humble patrolman, is called in to investigate. He finds Continue reading

book: Spirit of Steamboat (2013) by Craig Johnson


A couple of months ago I encountered Craig Johnson’s Longmire series in the form of Junkyard Dogs , and was much taken by what I read — enough, anyway, to resolve to read more in the series. The next that came to hand was this one.

However, where I’d expected another laff-packed mystery, what I got instead was a white-knuckle ride of an adventure yarn. The humor’s there, but it’s not what I’ll remember in a week’s time.

The book’s plot is nothing especially original. It’s Christmas Eve 1988 and a child who’s just lost her parents to an accident and herself needs urgent medical attention arrives in the Wyoming home turf of Walt Longmire, lately elected Sheriff of Absaroka County. The nearest hospital that can give the girl the emergency care she needs for her burns and other injuries is in Denver, Colorado, but there’s a winter storm raging all across the intervening area and the roads are closed. The sole chance to save her life seems to be to try to transport her by air through the blizzard and the winds and the darkness. Trouble is, the only available aircraft is a dilapidated World War II bomber, Steamboat, named for the horse that gave rise to Wyoming’s bucking bronco emblem (at least in one form of the legend).

The professionals balk at the prospect of the flight, so Walt, his ex-bomber-pilot predecessor as sheriff, Lucian, an underqualified copilot called Julie and the town’s elderly doctor, a concentration camp survivor, volunteer to get the old rustbucket into the air and transport the child and her grandmother through several hundred miles of hostile air. Their chances, they reckon, are slim, but they can’t just watch the kid die.

And then, of course, things start to go wrong . . . Continue reading

Fuchi ni Tatsu (2016)

vt Harmonium
Japan / 120 minutes / color / Comme des Cinémas, Nagoya Broadcasting Network, MAM, Aeon, Elephant House, Asahi Shimbun, Cinémas du Monde, Mountaingate Dir & Scr: Kôji Fukada Pr: Hiroshi Niimura, Yoshito Ohyama, Masa Sawada, Tsuyoshi Toyama Cine: Ken’ichi Negishi Cast: Mariko Tsutsui, Kanji Furutachi, Tadanobu Asano, Taiga, Momone Shinokawa, Kana Mahiro, Takahiro Miura.

An oddly hypnotic piece of Japanese neonoir, presented in two acts that are separated by a period of years.

Toshio (Furutachi) runs a small, independent metalworking company, its staff just him and a succession of apprentices, with his wife Akié (Tsutsui) helping with the accounts. One day, to Akié’s surprise, he suddenly takes on the enigmatic Mr. Yasaka (Asano), an old friend of his whom she’s never met who “just happened to be passing.” We soon learn that Yasaka has recently come out of jail after an eleven-year term served for murder, and it doesn’t take too much deduction to realize that Continue reading

book: Such Small Hands (2008; trans 2017 Lisa Dillman) by Andrés Barba


A strange little book, more like a longish novelette than even a novella. I’m still undecided as to whether I like it or not.

Aged seven, Marina survives the car crash that kills her mom and dad, and, after extensive surgery, is shipped off to an orphanage: “My father died instantly, and then my mother died in the hospital” is her catchphrase. Unlike the orphanages encountered almost everywhere else in fiction, this one is an enlightened establishment. Even so, the pre-existing residents, all girls about Marina’s age, regard her as the odd one out, a disturbing influence, and bully her a bit. At the same time, because of her strangeness and her past, she has a power over them. When she suggests a new game, one based on the dolly who “survived” the crash with her, they have no choice but to go along . . . Continue reading

book: Newcomer (2001; trans 2018 Giles Murray) by Keigo Higashino


Earlier this year I was blown away by Higashino’s novels Malice and especially Under the Midnight Sun, so I came to Newcomer with high expectations — perhaps unreasonably high expectations. I found the novel to be rather like Yuengling’s lager: very pleasant on the palate but somehow undistinguished.

A divorcee, Mineko Mitsui, has been strangled in the Nihonbashi precinct of Tokyo. No one can think of an explanation: she was a rather reserved woman, much liked by those who knew her. Inspector Kyoichiro Kaga, a newcomer to the precinct, is put on the case alongside a team of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. Being Kaga, he pursues his investigation independently, following up on odd little inconsistencies and pieces of trivia that most cops might ignore.

In this aspect the novel reminded me of Roy Vickers’s old Department of Dead Ends stories, in which typically something trivial and easily overlooked, like a child’s discarded toy — in one memorable instance a rubber trumpet — brings about the downfall, years later, of a murderer who’s been thinking he’s gotten away with it.

This connection between Newcomer and the Vickers stories was emphasized for me by Continue reading